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Bike shop in D.C.

D.C. shops thrive in the evolving age of electric bikes and scooters

Electric bicycles and scooters have risen in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic, but are people really benefiting from technological advancements in transportation. Some say yes.

Ryan Hecker regularly rides his bicycle living in the District of Columbia, and it’s not even an option. Whether to shop for groceries, commute to the gym, or get to hard-to-reach places – he heavily relies on a bike that a family friend gifted him during the COVID-19 pandemic to travel around town.

“Some places in D.C. are pretty inaccessible by Metro and it would be a bit of a long walk,” Hecker said.

He added that his choice of transportation is convenient – until it isn’t.

Mike Cox, a senior staffer at Conte’s Bike Shop on the corner of Wisconsin Ave. and Newark St., was helping Hecker on Memorial Day after tearing apart his front tire attempting to steer his bike onto a street curb.

While Cox often sees scenarios like Hecker’s come into the shop, since the rise of popularity of other modes of transport – including electric bikes and e-scooters – there’s been one consistent factor about the prominent D.C bike shop chain.

Business is still booming.

“It’s evolved,” Cox said in response to how electric bikes and e-scooters have affected sales at the shop. He worked for the company before the storefront opened in 2018 and said the business had not seen drastic changes since the rise of electric bikes.

In 2017, D.C. launched a program allowing “dockless” vehicles – otherwise called e-scooters or e-bikes – around the district for public use. Now, there are about 8,500 e-scooters and more than 3,700 e-bikes in the area owned by four companies: Lime, Lyft, Spin and VeoRide.

D.C. leaders also approved a bill in September 2023 to partially reimburse residents for buying an e-bike. The average cost of an electric vehicle is between $1,000 and $2,000, with higher-end models running upward of $10,000.

E-bike incentives chart

The chart above shows how much the District offers in vouchers to residents depending on whether applicants fall under social assistance programs and those who do not.

The bill also accounts for lower-income consumers who cannot immediately afford the expense. Customers can provide a discount voucher from the transportation department to bike shops, and the remaining funds are reimbursed to the storefronts.

Hecker, who expressed interest in owning an e-bike if he didn’t already own a bike, said there’s so many reasons why he’d consider trading his method of transportation.

“Well, they’re fast,” Hecker laughed when referring to e-bikes. “A lot of them are really compact, too.”

He added that even a scooter would be beneficial for activities like hitting the gym since it would be easier to park a smaller, foldable vehicle versus his traditional bike.

Despite the rise in popularity of electric bikes and scooters – mainly due to their economic impact in reducing emission outputs from a daily commute – Hecker acknowledges that riding electric vehicles, particularly e-scooters, can be dangerous for pedestrians and riders.

“I think there’s probably something to be said about the fact that if you’re biking, maybe you have some experience,” Hecker added. “Whereas because scooters are just public, you can rent one, maybe there’s a little bit less than a base knowledge of how to move on a road.”

Cox, the bike shop worker, said that the inherent danger from riding e-scooters can be the same for public bikes, electric or otherwise.

The D.C. area was an early adopter of bike-sharing programs. In August 2008, the District Department of Transportation launched its first program, SmartBike DC, which had ten stations and 100 bikes available publicly.

E-bike sales rose dramatically in 2022, with 1.1 million units sold, almost four times as many as in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Hugo Rios

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